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After coming together in GB Rowing’s women’s coxless pair in 2010, PE teacher Helen Glover and Royal Artillery officer Heather Stanning devoted all their energies to their sport, preparing intensively for the London Games and setting themselves the goal of winning Olympic gold. In sweeping all three events in the 2012 FISA World Rowing Cup, they showed that objective was well within their grasp.
It seemed even closer when they set a new Olympic record of 6:57.29 in the London 2012 heats, with Glover and Stanning taking to the start line for the final as very firm favourites. The pressure on them was intense, however, with 32,000 fans packed into the stands at Eton Dorney, most of them willing the home duo to win the hosts’ first gold of the Games and a first ever Olympic title for British women’s rowing.
Oblivious to the roars of the crowd, they focused on making a solid start. “I remember the feeling was quite ready, just quite calm,” said Glover, who added: “I think it’s always quite nice in this part of the race because you’ve gone out at the start, you’ve got an idea of what’s going on and then you can relax into the race a little bit.”
Taking an early lead, the British boat gradually pulled away from the field, opening up a large gap by the 750m mark. Rowing at 34 strokes a minute, Glover and Stanning passed the halfway point in 3:39.5, some 3.5 seconds clear of Juliette Haig and Rebecca Scown in the New Zealand boat and 6.2 of Australian duo Kate Homsey and Sarah Tait.
“We pushed off from halfway and got another good bit of distance away from the other crews, which made it obviously quite exciting for everybody watching, because they could see that they might be about to watch the first gold for GB,” said Glover.
As the race moved into the final 500 metres, the decibel levels in the stands intensified. The din did not go unnoticed by the British pair.
“Normally you only hear people in the last 250 metres,” added Stanning. “So having that extra 500 metres of people, it kind of swallows up that bit of the race quite quickly.”
With the gap on the Kiwis increasing to five seconds at the 1,500m mark and to seven on the Australians, Glover and Stanning eased off slightly, and eventually cruised across the line with a little over two seconds to spare from Homsey and Tait, who had jumped into second place.
The British pair drank in the moment as the home crowd celebrated. “I just remember feeling utter relief because we’d won every race that season coming up to it,” said Glover. “I was so tired but so excited and I couldn’t even lift myself to get up off my seat or get back on my seat,” added Stanning.
They looked up to see their coaches waving excitedly at them from the bank. “That was one of the nicest moments actually just seeing them,” recalled Glover.
Describing her feelings on the podium, Glover said: “Directly below where the flags were being raised were our family and friends. It was so emotional. I was blubbing because every time you look up, you see all the people that have supported us for years. It was surreal, so surreal. We were absolutely naive to how big it would be if we were to win.”
“No matter what happens for the rest of my life, I’ve done something I can be proud of forever. No one can ever take that away from me,” continued Glover, who was left to look for a new partner in 2013, when Stanning took a break from rowing to return to the armed forces.
Pressing on regardless, Glover teamed up with Polly Swan to win her maiden world title in Chungju (KOR). Then, in 2014, Stanning was back in the boat with her, the pair picking up where they left off to win back-to-back world titles and three straight European crowns.